Thursday, April 30, 2009

fluff or fodder
Last Friday, I watched YouTube videos with my students.

This is nothing ground-breaking nor is it particularly innovative. However, it marks the crystallization of an idea that I've been toying with for a while: the invisible divide that seems to exist between teachers and students. As a beginning teacher, this division was a tenuous and fragile was the facade of my authority.

Perhaps the nucleus of this crystal formed when I heard Alan November say that we are the first generation of teachers whose students do not play the games that we did at their age. Most of us would have shared the common experience of hopscotch, red rover, and kick the can with our teachers. Can we honestly say the same about our relationship with our students? So what? Who cares? Perhaps the only way we can connect with our students is by standing on the foundation of shared experience.

So...a couple of years ago, I dived into facebook. I have absolutely no interest in friending my students; in fact, they all know not to ask until they have graduated...and even then, I'm not sure I would accept their requests. I don't want to be their friends, virtually or literally, but I do want to know and understand the language and vocabulary of their time. I don't want to be on the other side of the divide anymore.

Last Friday, my grade 9's swept into the classroom at the beginning of period 2, eyes feral with hormones and spring; I decided on a whim to share with them a video that has gone viral on the internet (as well as launched Coeur de Pirate's career from obscure Quebecois chanteuse into the mainstream). The kids watched the video, mouths agape, gentle smiles blossoming across and softening their features. Then the most wondrous thing happened, we had a tingling discussion about why certain YouTube videos take flight. Why did this particular video resonate so strongly with people? What part of the human psyche did this video stimulate? What is the power and pull of this video? The discussion was fervent, passionate…and real and grounded in a shared experience.

Then another wondrous thing happened, the energy in the room was palpable and kinetic as every child offered a video on YouTube that they felt everyone needed to watch. These kids spend hours watching videos on Youtube. There was genuine excitement and an intense desire to share discoveries that these students had made when they should have been doing their math homework. Each child wanted an opportunity to present and justify their choice.

Ryan Chung made the most impassioned plea and thus we watched Sandra Boyle’s insanely popular performance on Britain’s Got Talent. Next, we discussed the light this video casts on human judgment and cruelty, and the unexpected glimpses of beauty that mesmerize us in our chaotic lives, and mostly powerfully of all, the revelation of the frailty that lives in all of us.

My students had all seen the videos but they had never thought about why and how these videos affected them in such a way. They may spend hours in front of the computer but they do not have the tools to assess, access and articulate meaning. This is our job: to give students the tools and structures to make sense of what is already monopolizing their time.

It was one of the most magical and meaningful discussions I have ever had the privilege of being a part of.

Last Friday, I watched YouTube videos with my students and it was good.

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